The nationwide lockdown, announced to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, has exposed the dishonorable condition of informal workers, especially in cities. The conditions of domestic workers- most of them women- have further been deplorable.
A survey by the Domestic Workers Sector Skill Council (DWSSC) says that nearly 85% of domestic workers have not been paid for the lockdown period. An eight- state random survey by the DWSSC- a non-profit organisation under the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship- found that 23.5% of domestic workers have migrated back to their native place.
While, 38% of the domestic workers said that they were facing problems in arranging food. Around 30% have no money to survive the lockdown period. However, 98.5% of domestic workers are aware of the precautions that should be taken to be safe from COVID-19.
The survey had been done across eight states- Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu- in April. But, the domestic workers are still in distress as they are unable to get back to work and access wages.
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Across India, only 14 states have notified minimum wages for the domestic workers. “In these states, the workers can file a complaint seeking redressal but in the rest of the states including in the national capital, they do not have any such recourse. Hence there is a need for uniformity,” said Ramendra Kumar, president of Delhi Gharelu Kaamgar Sangathan.
The report further stated that in many affluent communities, these domestic workers face discrimination. The rich consider the domestic workers as if they are the carriers of the virus.
According to Geeta Menon, founder of Stree Jagruthi Samiti, who also helped form the Domestic Workers Rights Union Karnataka, many employers have the opinion that domestic workers are carriers of the virus.
Recently, the Kent water purifiers bran posted a classist ad on Instagram which said, “Are you allowing your maid to knead atta dough by hand? Her hands may be infected.” Many of the employers think as in the ad, said Geeta.
“Over 80% of domestic workers have been told not to come to work for the next two months (June and July) because their employers fear that they are carriers of the virus. Shutting themselves inside a room when the domestic worker comes to work, all this is insensitive and stigmatising,” said Geeta.
Around 50% of the domestic workers in Bengaluru have not received their pay for the month of April while many have been laid off by employers, Geeta added.
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The stigma over the domestic workers are very evident from the way the employers treat them. A 30-year-old domestic worker Prema stated how she was treated by her employer. “My employer said that the place where I live is not hygienic and that they are scared of getting infected. Now, I have found a job at a bachelor's house. They are going to pay me Rs 1,500 per month. Earlier, I used to earn twice as much and my starting salary was Rs 3,500 per house. I don't know what else I can do,” Prema said.
Commenting on this new version of untouchability, Faye Dsouza, an eminent journalist, said: “I hope they realise it was “foreign return” madams and sirs who gave the virus to maids… and not the other way around!”